Ben Gibbard probably wasn’t talking about an upscale seafood restaurant when he wrote the words to that song, but as I stand here, drowning in a sea of paper that’s flying at me from the kitchen’s tongs, it feels pretty relevant. I’m trying to put lemon and capers on a Halibut, throw a medium pizza into a TO-GO box and make sure those fries actually come with a side of ketchup. I’m yelling at the kitchen to get me a cup of our famous clam chowder, explaining to my manager that it’ll be another second for that 7oz medium rare to be just a little more medium than rare. And even in these moments when I don’t have time to think, the very real feeling that I am trapped by this place lurks in the background of my thoughts.
I’m trapped here because I like it here. I like the people, I like the job, I like walking in and having everybody know my name and respect me for what I do. I’ll bound up the stairs in uniform, throw a smile at the hostesses by the door, punch in on the computer, talk hockey with Tim the server, and go to my home on the line. There are six of us who wear chef coats but don’t cook the food; we’re expos. We doctor the food and run it out to the table. It seems simple enough, but it’s a bit more complicated than you’d expect, especially in a restaurant three stories high. We’re the trench that separates the front of house from the back of house, a war that’s been waging since before restaurants existed. And as expos we see it all; I’ve seen servers swear at cooks and cooks swear at severs. I’ve seen them challenge one another to fist fights. While they bitch each other out, we listen and stay neutral. It’s a hard place to find yourself, in the middle of it all. But there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
I got a job here after university, thinking it was just for the time being, that it would suffice while I searched for a real job. That was two years ago.
I’m still here, carrying trays full of food up the stairs until the printers stop humming. I thought this place would be a holding ground, one year maximum. But it’s my safe haven. It’s been my place away from family tragedies, heart-wrenching relationships, and the utter reality that getting a job in journalism these days is harder than beating The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
I’ve gone through two internships while working at the restaurant, and though part-time journalism work is coming more and more often, I know it will be a while before I can completely leave this place. It’s an age-old conundrum: feeling like maybe you won’t ever fully get out of the job you got into to tide yourself over. You look at the veteran servers and think ‘holy shit is that gonna be me? Am I still going to be here at 30? 40?’ With university degrees looking very much like an old piece of paper, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the “temporary job” tunnel.
It’s even harder when the tunnel really isn’t that dark. Despite the work, the yelling, the customers I know seeing me slave away here, I like this place. And it, for the most part, likes me. With the ups and downs that are just a part of life, it’s nice to have a stable home away from home, a place I can come to and feel not just liked, but appreciated too. I may be getting too old for this shit, but if I somehow transform into Link and slice my way into a full-time journalism job (and find Zelda), you better believe I’ll ask the restaurant to stay on a couple of days a week. Gibbard and his golden voice may have been right about this place being a prison, but is it wrong that I’m enjoying my time?